Burning wood to stay warm can be a pretty good way to heat the house. The new stoves operate fairly cleanly, and wood heat is considered carbon-neutral since wood represents carbon that would be released, eventually, into the atmosphere anyway.
But let’s examine this claim for carbon neutrality a little more closely. Living trees capture carbon. Cutting them down and burning them because they’re eventually going to die and rot anyway just isn’t carbon-neutral–at least not in my book! However, most firewood is “debris” left over from logging operations, so I guess you can figure those trees have been cut anyway, and you might as well take advantage of them. This may make you an accessory to wasteful logging practices, but oh well.
The most conscionable firewood comes from trees that are already dead or from trees that were thinned out for the health of the forest. But how do you know unless you do it yourself? I guess you could ask the wood seller, who might know, but I have to admit that I don’t ever ask. Even in the rural area where I live, firewood is sometimes difficult to find when you need it. I take what I can get. (We also use air-to-air heat pumps. Alternating their use with the dryness of wood heat is really helpful in our damp coastal climate.)
We’ve considered switching over to a pellet stove. Pellet stoves burn very cleanly, and the pellets are mostly made from leftover wood debris at lumber operations. However, do a little research just to make sure the manufacturers are not harvesting trees. Forests are now being clear-cut in order to manufacture “industrial” pellets, which are exported to Europe and burned as biomass to produce electricity.
BTW, I am deeply suspicious of biomass as “clean” energy. I’m sure there are conditions and environments where it makes sense, but I have no faith that these particulars govern its use.
But there is hope that we’ll eventually get it right. Pellets, for instance, can be produced from a variety of materials such as cornstalks, straw, wastepaper, etc. We don’t have to clear-cut forests to make them.